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MAZDA3 i Grand Touring 4-Door Sedan Ride and Review By Larry Nutson

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2012 Mazda3 i Skyactiv - No Buttons

by Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

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Yes, no buttons! What, you ask. No buttons is a good way to define Mazda’s approach to vehicle design. There is no button to push for the ECO-mode. No dial to rotate for the sport-mode. No switch to flip for a firm-ride. As Mazda says in their TV spot, “We don’t compromise.”

Mazda is the definition of affordable Japanese performance. The Mazda3 has been a perennial fun-to-drive compact. All the attention today is on high fuel economy cars. 40mpg is the new 30mpg. And there is a broad selection of very nice compact cars offered by many brands on the market today.

Back in February, the new Mazda3 with Skyactiv was introduced to auto writers at a gathering in Los Angeles. Here's my story that details the new Mazda3 and its mid-cycle refresh.

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Although I had just driven the Mazda3 in February, I wanted to experience this car in urban, city, Chicagoland driving. My tester was a Mazda3 i Grand Touring 4-door sedan. MSRP is $22,300. A $200 optional Interior Lighting Kit cast a blue tint across the floor and various accents around the instrument panel. A $1400 Technology Package included Blind Spot Monitoring, Bi-xenon Headlights with Auto Leveling and a really neat Pivoting Adaptive Front Lighting System.

I tend to prefer a more versatile hatchback, or liftback as some say, and Mazda says 5-door. But, the sedan configuration of my test Mazda3 proved to be very versatile. I needed to take my Labrador retriever to the vet, and a simple fold-down of the 60/40 slit rear seat gave Java, my lab, the space she needed.

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A comparison of the two Mazda3 body styles is worthwhile. The 4-door is 180.9 inches long and the 5-door is 3.5 inches shorter at 177.9 inches making it a little more city-friendly for on-street parallel parking. However, there is much more of a difference in cargo space. The sedan has an 11.8 cubic foot trunk with a fold-down rear seat that certainly increases versatility. The 5-door is significantly more spacious at 17.0 cubic feet and also has the fold down rear seat. The large opening rear hatch of the 5-door adds to the ease of loading in that big bulky box of whatever.

Now here’s an interesting difference. The fuel tank of the sedan holds 14.5 gallons whereas the 5-door holds 15.9 gallons. At the 40mpg highway rating that will get you 60 miles further down the road. My point here is when car shopping look into the details of the different body styles and don’t decide only based on style and appearance. This is the reason that for the past 16 years The Auto Channel has developed and perfected interactive research tools that provide serious vehicle shoppers with in-depth information and comparison cabilities.

For example here on The Auto Channel:
RANK: Every Vehicle sold in North America by 100 dimensions, capacities and other criteria.
COMPARE 2012-1997 vehicles (same or different brand or style) by 100 criteria side by side by side by side

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Mazda’s Skyactiv technology is not just in the engine. It’s in the transmissions…both manual and automatic, in the suspension, and in the body structure. Mazda had exposed auto writers to its suite of Skyactiv technology late last summer in Vancouver. Here is the LINK to my story on The Auto Channel that provides an in-depth overview of Skyactiv. After listening to Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda’s Executive Officer for Product Planning, Program Management and Design and studying the displays at this meeting I said to him “You’re bringing every customer race-car technology.” He just smiled!

Much to my surprise, and also delight, my Mazda3 test car was fitted with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. However this turned out to be a bit ironic because my late-March test drive was during the crazy-for-Chicago 80 temps we had. Most new cars come today with all-season tires. Well, if you live in a snowy, cold-climate area, those tires are actually three-season. When winter conditions are common for three or more months of the year, winter tires are a smart investment. Depending upon your driving habits, one set can see you through several winter seasons. Note: mount them on their own wheels.

The winter tire is designed to provide maximum performance in low winter temperatures and on ice, snow and slush. This tire performs better due to its combination of more flexible sidewalls, winter tread patterns, deeper tread depth, and perhaps most importantly, tread compounds which remain soft in the lowest winter temperatures. Even under dry road conditions, stopping distances can be shorter with winter tires when the outside temps are very low. The noticeable negative is that winter tires are noisier.

As I wrap up this story, Consumer Guide Automotive just announced their 2012 Best Buys and the Mazda 3 is one of them. No surprise. This is great little compact car. Fun-to-drive; very good for city living; great for hot-footing in the open country; very controlled and comfortable and safe.

The Mazda 3 is offered in eleven different models with various engine and transmission combinations. It’s a no compromise and confident car that I am confident you will like.

Larry Nutson